Don Suhor thoroughly embraced both traditional and modern jazz and often would infiltrate one of these kissin’ cousins within the other. He also brought an equal amount of fervor to the clarinet, his first instrument, and the saxophone. These dimensions of the New Orleans–born Suhor are wonderfully displayed on New Orleans Clarinet & Sax Virtuoso, a two-disc collection of tunes compiled with attention and love by his brother, journalist, author and drummer Charles Suhor, who in the liner notes also offers insights into the recording sessions and a biography of Don, who passed away in 2002.
Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur,” a go-to number for clarinetists up to the challenge, opens Disc One—Clarinet Connections: From Dixieland to Bopsieland. (Charles’ word Bopsieland refers to jazz’s bebop era.) Suhor’s upper register reaches here are truly stunning as he works with the trio of banjoist Amy Sharpe and bassist Al Bernard. He again impresses with his command of the ultra-high notes as well as his unique, often modern-leaning interpretation of “Basin Street Blues.” Suhor is with a full band on this number led by drummer Gary Burghoff, the actor best known as Radar on the television show “M*A*S*H.” Other leaders whose groups benefit from Suhor’s talents on clarinet on this disc include vocalist Topsy Chapman, trumpeter Wendell Brunious and guitarist John Eubanks.
The more modern Eubanks’ style stands as a natural lead into Disc Two that features Suhor the saxophonist and modernist beboppin’ on “Slow Boat to China.” Interestingly, the quartet is led by fretman Don Vappie, who—particularly these days—is noted more as a keeper of the flame for traditional jazz with a Creole flavor. Pianist Phil Parnell does a wonderful job on the nine tunes in the Vappie session. Considering the sound quality, it’s quite amazing that these cuts were tapped at a wedding party. Occasional “Yeas” by the listeners (or players) add to the pleasure.
The second disc ends as strongly as the first one began, though Suhor is now on sax with different instrumentation and blowing on jazz of a different era, notably George Russell’s “Ezz-Thetic.” On New Orleans Clarinet & Sax Virtuoso, Don Suhor continually demonstrates his love of all jazz and the wholeness that remains the music’s, as well as his, essence.